Thousands of people have started the addiction-recovery journey by walking underneath the Alano Club's sage green threshold, and the organization that operates the historic building on the corner of Garden and Cota Streets is about to celebrate half a century of helping people find help with drug and alcohol dependence.
The Alano Club, located at 235 E. Cota Street, is home to meetings lsuch as Alcoholics Anonymous four times each day, and is open 365 days a year.
The nonprofit organization is separate and distinct from AA, Alanon or any other 12-Step group, but those groups pay rent to the club to help pay expenses, which in turn provides a space to hold meetings and events.
The club is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary in Santa Barbara, and will be holding a benefit on Oct. 4 at the Montecito Country Club to raise money to continue its work.
The group's mission is to provide a space for those seeking recovery, connecting to them to services available, and to support groups to facilitate sobriety.
It's a place to meet with a sponsor, work on a resume, attend a meeting, or learn about what services are available locally.
Noozhawk sat down with board president Jill McCray-Hyers and board member Paula Michal to talk about what the Alano Club has accomplished, and where it's going over the next half century.
"Many people have come in and started a new life," McCray-Hyers said, estimating that 4,200 people a year come through the group's doors.
"We've known people that have come to meeting three times a day until they can get some solid ground under their feet," she said.
"It's like a safety net," Michal added.
People who come to the Alano Club seeking help are from all walks of life.
It's not just people off the street, Michal said, adding that it's corporate executives, nurses, doctors, bankers and many others.
The high-ceilinged building is a former church, and remains a place of celebration on holidays, when providing sober alternatives is a big part of the organization's mission.
"The holidays are really hard for people with addiction," Michal said, adding that it's a vulnerable time, when many beginning recovery struggle.
"I hear it all the time. People will say, 'I've never been to a New Years Eve Party sober'," McCray-Hyers said, adding that functions at the club affirm that person isn't alone in his or her recovery.
Ken Chapple, operations manager for the club, has been sober 22 years, and understands how important it is for people to feel comfortable when the enter the building.
"This is where I got sober in 1991," he said, adding that there's a small window of time when people are willing to get sober and take action.
About 12 regular volunteers help during the hours the club is open, about 45 minutes before and after each meeting, and it's not unusual to see people working in the club's cafe using the wireless Internet to update resumes or job search.
McCray-Hyers said that people will come in to volunteer, which gives them a sense of responsibility and can lead to experience that can land them a paying job later in the community.
Ed Wilmoth, who volunteers 20 hours a week, said he just does it to help others the way he's been helped.
Michal recalled presenting her father with a cake at the Alano Club room to celebrate his 35th year of sobriety.
Her father shared that he had ended up on Skid Row because of his addiction issues, and Michal said she had never heard the full extent of his story until he shared it that day at the Alano Club.
"This place means a lot to me," she said.
McCray-Hyers agreed. Her father was a heavy drinker after returning from World War II, and "I wish there had been a place like this for him," she said.
There's such a small window of opportunity that people want to get help, she said, and when they want it, and it's there, "you really are saving their lives sometimes."
The first few days or weeks of someone's recovery are key, they said.
Several years ago, the group was ready to close its doors from lack of funding, but the organization is on more solid footing now, and the board has expanded from five to 14 members, McCray-Hyers said.
The group will be fundraising at its Oct. 4 benefit to provide for an executive director position and other needs to keep the organization flourishing.
Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, will be performing at the benefit, and a reception, dinner, and live and silent auctions will be held.
Tickets to the benefit are $150 each, and can be purchased at alanoclubsantabarbara.org or by calling 805.319.3332.